I was very interested in Jack Conrad’s podcast on free schools (www.cpgb.org.uk/home/podcasts/october-20-2013-cpgb-political-report). He mentioned two main points that are particularly interesting.
I agree with him when he says that he would be keen for religious institutions to play no part in educating our children. He also mentioned that he was educated at a Church of England school, while his Jewish girlfriend went to a secondary Catholic school that seemed to indoctrinate students, rather than educate. I would also be keen for faith schools to suddenly stop existing, because they teach lies to children. However, it is very difficult to bring this about.
I am a member of the National Union of Teachers and also an elected local officer who attends the Easter conference every year. Conference is the body that makes policy and we cannot get a motion passed to do away with faith schools. In fact we do not even dare to bring such a motion, because so many members have a faith and would be offended. I would like a motion passed that asks the union to campaign for all faith schools to become non-faith schools and be brought back under local authority control.
We are stuck with all these schools because of a compromise made with the churches in 1944 - the schools already existed and the state needed them to stay open rather than pay for all schools to be started from scratch and run by the state. A compromise was also made in the NHS for different but equally practical reasons.
The waters became even more muddied when Tony Blair called for new faith academies and a whole can of worms was reopened. The Socialist Workers Party immediately supported Muslim academies because it would be unfair to Muslims not to have their own faith academies if the Christians were allowed them - a position I disagreed with. They were also chasing support from Muslims in Respect, which I always suspected was a lot to do with it. Anyway, it is all a bigger mess now, with Muslim and Christian free schools about to appear in large numbers to add to social segregation and deregulation.
What do the NUT say about free schools? Well we are against them and the deregulation, pro-business aspect in particular. Free schools do not insist on qualified teachers and this undermines the pay and conditions of all teachers. We do think that increasing resources and money would help education and that teachers should be properly rewarded. The education that children get does reflect the wellbeing of the people who teach them - this is obvious, but not the whole answer.
The state does interfere with teaching too much and this makes schools places that have become boring exam factories. State schools are even worse under education secretary Michael Gove, who has done a remarkable amount of damage in his short time in office. Ofsted is used to force teachers to account for pupils’ educational progress according to levels that are largely fictional, but are measured and remeasured. Teachers’ pay will now be dependent on the raising of these fictional levels from 2014.
So, yes, the state is far too involved in education, and the interference will increase as time passes. There are mechanisms even now, however, that can at least push in the other direction to some degree. Local governors consisting of parents and teachers are capable of influencing the way schools are run. Local authorities, which are at least accountable to the local electorate, should provide support for the schools and build new ones. But we need to also raise the argument to get rid of Ofsted and testing until at least GCSE age and call not for free schools run by co-ops or the CPGB, but schools that reflect the needs of local parents, paid by the state, and reflect the most enlightened theories of education from around the world.
This, however, will take a huge movement against the current system and is easier said than done.
Right up north
Paul Demarty’s piece, ‘The ballad of Tommy Robinson’ (October 17), is flawed for want of hard facts.
I have tried to explain before that the title ‘English Defence League’ isn’t a single constituency. It is not a single entity with a single ideology. Demarty’s principal statement is that the EDL is no more rightwing today than it was last year or the year before, and Robinson’s reasons for leaving it are not because he fears or wishes to distance himself from its onward rightwing (and might I say armed) trajectory. In this Demarty is quite wrong.
The EDL started specifically in opposition to what they saw as an unstoppable rise in the number of Muslims and cultural impact of Islam; as well as the growth of jihadism within its ranks here and across the world. Whatever we think of that, this fear and opposition attracted people from many races, religions and cultural groups, a majority of whom were largely white working class youth.
On Tyneside and Wearside, and in the north and borders in general, this phase was very short-lived. The EDL as such ceased to exist in the north and was essentially the National Front, and regionally-based fascist and Nazi-loving organisations, only using the name ‘EDL’ when they thought it more respectable when applying for permission for demos and rallies. The EDL in the north were some way to the right of the EDL in the rest of the country.
When the EDL held its national demo in Newcastle two or three years ago, Robinson was pulled from the platform by local infidels and Northern Patriotic Front members, who occasionally pose as the EDL, to beat him up and attack the rally as ‘race traitors’. The slogans of the so-called EDL up here feature as much general anti-black and anti-communist venom as they do anti-Islam or, more particularly, anti-Muslim. While the EDL nationally is pro-Zionist, up here it remains anti-Semitic. Together with the conscious identity with fascism and Nazism , salutes, ‘sieg heils’, Nazi tattoos and chants in praise of Hitler and the Nazis, have come a growing hard core of street thugs frequently armed with percussion bombs, sticks, bottles and knives. This northern faction, in truth NF and Nazi infiltrators, now dominates this region and has spread down south to most big northern and Midlands cities.
So, in short, Robinson is not just making it up. He may well be in fear for his own life or, as he says, some knucklehead killing someone in the name of the EDL of which he is seen as the leader. So the EDL is at least regionally marching to the far right and this tendency is spreading down the country.
I also don’t understand why this break is a cause for cynicism. It is not impossible for Robinson to wake up and smell the class nature of Britain and the problem faced by the bulk of the white working class as being class-based, not race-based. It is not impossible his break may start a fragmentation of the EDL as a whole, which can only be good.
The CPGB and others on the left ought to be encouraging this break, opening up a dialogue with Robinson and others with a view to confronting their distorted views and perspectives, and presenting class-based politics and solutions to the problems faced by the working class as a whole.
I’m not naive. I know all too well how entrenched some of these elements are, but we ought not to dismiss the chance to open up a dialogue and nudge even these lumpen elements into a more progressive direction.
Right up north
Right up north
I do find it amusing that two leading members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain should, like myself, regard it as a huge personal embarrassment to have once been a member of the SPGB (Letters, October 24)!
I think I joined for a brief period in the mid-1990s. This was in the wake of the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader and I guess I wanted to support a party which remained unequivocal in its advocacy of the replacement of capitalism by a world socialist society. And which did not hitch its star to the Labour Party as an agency of social change.
I also felt some appreciation for the Socialist Standard of the 1970s and 80s in educating me in the basics and fundamentals of Marxism during my adolescent and formative years.
I did soon enough leave the Clapham SPGB, probably for a number of reasons. Although some people were not wedded to the ‘parliamentary road to socialism’, the SPGB as a whole was and is. The Clapham SPGB believes in the ‘immediate abolition’ of the state, whereas the expelled and excluded Ashbourne Court SPGB hold, in line with Marxism, that the working class needs a state in order to suppress the capitalist class and implement socialisation.
I also felt the notion of two SPGBs, both having identical aims and principles but completely hostile and hateful to each other, was ridiculous. There was no sense of cohesion, solidarity or even basic comradeship in the SPGB. Members can literally say and do as much or as little as they like. Most pay no dues and are completely inactive. Those who engage are fractious and seem personally antagonistic.
I still subscribe to the Socialist Standard but, after reading, it goes into the council recycling. It’s pretty transient and irrelevant. Changes in the Communist Party of Britain resulting from the attraction of wider forces and cadres into the organisation in the late 1990s reminded me of why I joined the CP in the first place, decades earlier. That I have been a communist from my very early years and will remain a communist until the day I die.
At the time, I felt the 1977 British road to socialism was the updating and application of Marx’s and Engels’ Communist manifesto to modern times and to the specific history and traditions of Britain. I am probably more critical nowadays with the wisdom of some age and experience, but I still do regard the BRS with a great deal of affection.
An interview with the former Red Army Faction militant, Karl-Heinz Dellwo, appeared in the German daily Die Tageszeitung this week. What I found interesting was when Dellwo recounted his impression of the German radical left when he was released from prison in the mid-1990s:
“I can remember the conflicts around the gender question, which were in themselves necessary, but which were also blown out of proportion in how every lack of male sensitivity was likened to rape. To me, those were conflicts that made me think the old left approach had reached its end. The new approach was determined by the desire to experience something I would call reactionary: the need to triumph over others - ie, to find a psychological crutch. The left’s room for manoeuvre had become smaller, so people started to fight over the small turf that was still left.”
Scrape the surface and lefties denounce lefties as ‘nutters’, ‘loonies’, etc, showing about as much understanding of personal oppression and the oppression of the psychiatric system as their hold on the dialectic.
Many thousands of people suffer treatment, patronage, enforced imprisonment and community orders every year. There is a huge problem of racism in the disproportionate numbers of black people who are sectioned, put on heavy medication or killed through restraint. Following the lead of the red tops, John Penney and Paul Demarty repeat the language of oppression and smartly say, ‘So what?’ (‘Nutters like us’, October 24).
There is something deeply wrong with modern capitalist society that causes more and more mental health issues to those who suffer from the domination of the ruling class. Ideological dominance requires division, derision and atomisation of the class and the individual. The division between the ‘sane’ and the ‘mentally ill’ serves a function to oppress and divide us, as well as provide a market worth billions for the multinational drugs companies, with us humans as their guinea pigs.
Such abuse should simply be denounced and not supported by usage on the left. Paul Demarty’s ‘shock jock’ approach is demeaning to himself and others he intentionally offends. It is not part of our therapy to accept the derogatory labels that the bourgeois media and bourgeois psychiatric system impose on us. ‘Swallow the pill,’ Demarty says, ‘accept the labels’. No, no, no, no! This is no advance of left culture.
The gulags exist here! They practice forced medication, forced imprisonment (for your own safety) and electric current therapy. In the name of ...?
Boycott Workfare has heavily criticised the Public and Commercial Services union for allowing its members to implement benefit sanctions on claimants of jobseekers’ allowance, resulting in the cutting, suspension and stopping of benefits. Many claimants are then pointed to food banks by the jobcentre.
This has occurred with the connivance of the PCS leadership, which is controlled by the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the SWP. SPEW have even wheeled out PCS vice-president John McInally in its defence. The PCS inaction reminds me of members of the SS who defended themselves by saying, ‘I was only following orders’.
Sixty thousand claimants a month are having their JSA cut, suspended or stopped, my nephew being one of them. I’ve often wondered why PCS members in my local job centre willingly carry out such barbaric acts.